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|#526 2007-08-02 GMT-5 hours|
SPANGDAHLEM, Germany - The familiar roar of fighter jets is back in Germany's Eifel region.
The 52nd Fighter Wing's three fighter squadrons began returning to their Spangdahlem home on Wednesday after deploying as far away as Las Vegas because of runway resurfacing. The wing's 22nd, 23rd and 81st left two months ago so that pilots and crewmembers could continue to train as the landing strip shut down and workers made the repairs.
Many of the roughly 240 members of the 81st Fighter Squadron along with 14 of the unit's A-10 Thunderbolts arrived Wednesday from RAF Lakenheath, England. Some family members waited at the various aircraft shelters scattered near the runway to meet their husbands and fathers as soon as they got out of the cockpit. Capt. Nick DeFazio, a 28-year- old, single A-10 pilot, was greeted by a cold bottle of beer. "It's always good to get back to your home station," he said.
The 300-mile trip to Spangdahlem from Lakenheath was a one-tank trip that took about an hour for pilots to fly. The journey home for maintenance and support personnel took considerably longer because they traveled by bus. Workers finished the $2.8 million runway project the night before the first planes landed. The Air Force had to resurface the 10,000-foot strip after inspectors found cracks caused by water seepage between the top and bottom layers of asphalt.
F-16 fighters from the 22nd along with about 240 airmen deployed to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and stayed until the runway was ready. F-16s from the 23rd relocated to Buechel Air Base, a German base about 20 miles from Spangdahlem. Maintenance crews from the 23rd commuted from Spangdahlem to Buechel to fix and support the aircraft for daily training missions. The 81st took advantage of its temporary stay in England, participating in exercises with U.S. F-15s and British Typhoon fighter jets. A-10 "Warthog" pilots also got a chance to practice close-air support missions with British troops on the ground and to fly at low altitudes. In adddition, they got to drop live ordnance on several ranges. "There's three conventional, surface-attack ranges that are about 50 miles away from Lakenheath," said Capt. Joe Turnham, 33-year-old A-10 pilot originally from Michigan. "We got to go there and drop bombs and shoot the gun every day, which as an A-10 guy, that's what we love to do."